Strategies to Help Children Learn Speech


Kevin Cunningham



Using brain science, caregivers can use strategies to help children to learn speech. In a previous post, we discussed the importance of feedback in how children learn speech. Children hear the speech of their caregivers and their own babbling, which drives the production of talking. Strong scientific evidence tells us that the ways parents interact with infants can teach their children speech and language [1]. We will discuss two fundamental strategies for helping children to learn speech in typical development. If you have any concern about a delay in your child’s speech or language, you should speak with your pediatrician and a speech-language pathologist.

Using modeling as a hack to boost speech development

When we talk, we produce individual speech sounds, called phonemes, blended together to form words and sentences. Modeling of speech sounds is a powerful strategy for learning speech. With modeling, a caregiver gives frequent, high quality examples of speech sounds. To my mind, the best way to model speech is shared reading of story books. Reading to children has incredible benefits for communication growth [2], and it is associated with richer vocabulary, longer phrases, and even eventual literacy skills. High quality, frequent exposure to speech is linked to more advanced learning of speech sounds [3], and reading to children is a powerful opportunity to provide this exposure.

High quality reading strategies for speech development:

  1. Pick books with repeated elements, such as a phrase or a character. Our favorite is the Little Blue Truck series. Repeated phrases, characters, and actions can reinforce the same speech sounds multiple times, which is key to learning.
  2. Pick books with a wide variety of names and speech sounds, which can provide exposure to more advanced sounds like “r”. The classic is Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. We have worn our copy out. Our favorite bedtime stories are the YOU ARE LOVED collection.
  3. Read slowly. Read with an exaggerated story telling voice with lots of variation in pitch, which can help children’s brain understand the differences between speech sounds [4].
  4. Read the story once a day for a few days, which is easiest to do as part of a bedtime routine.

Using recasting as a strategy to help children learn speech

For children beginning to talk, you have even more strategies to help children learn speech. Recasting involves repeating what a child says using typical, adult pronunciation.

“da ta ta”-2 year old child

“yes, that is a shark“-parent

The trick to recasting is to just provide the input so the child can hear the typical pronunciation. This is not a correction. Don’t say “no, it’s a shark.” Be affirming, praising your child’s speech. Recasting can be provided during daily activities such as conversation at the grocery store, during shared reading, at the dinner table. Sometimes, our children use beginning pronunciations that are so cute that we and the older children say them. For example, when our daughter said Pennsylvania as “Pencil Bean” and we continued to use it, that pronunciation tended to stick around because we had reinforced it.

Providing high quality, frequent exposure to speech sounds can help children learn speech. Daily reading is a powerful support for communication growth. Recasting can help speech development while providing positive affirmation.

Take Back Speech Therapy provides speech therapy in North Carolina that puts parents in charge as the primary teachers of communication. Contact us today.

Note: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases made through the links above. Alternatively, you can find these books often at a library book sale.


[1] Topping, K., Dekhinet, R. & Zeedyk, S. (2012). Parent–infant interaction and children’s language development

[2] Whitehurst et al., 1988. Accelerating language development through picture book reading.

[3]Reese, E., Robertson, S. J., Divers, S., & Schaughency, E. (2015). Does the brown banana have a beak? Preschool children’s phonological awareness as a function of parents’ talk about speech sounds. 

[4] McMurray, B., Kovack-Lesh, K. A., Goodwin, D., & McEchron, W. (2013). Infant directed speech and the development of speech perception: Enhancing development or an unintended consequence?

Leave a Comment